Gutsy Educators Do the Right Thing

“Brian Bass of Brooklyn Ctr. H.S. in Minneapolis is a hero, not a failure. He did the right thing for his students.”  @TeacherReality posted on Twitter July 30, 2010.

I posted this tweet about an educator, Bryan Bass, who was fired from his job as Principal at Brooklyn Center High School in Minneapolis because the scores were not up to par.  To improve students’ education, this man took down some of the barriers to learning that many of those unlucky enough to be born into poverty, face on a day-to-day basis.  He provided wrap-around services to students to address their social, emotional, and health needs.  As a result, behavioral issues went way down.  But, that doesn’t matter to the Dept. of Education, so Principal Bass was fired for low scores.

This kind of thing is happening all around the nation and it is not being printed in main stream newspapers.  Can you imagine the humiliation Bryan Bass must feel for being labeled a “failure” and then having to read about it in the local newspaper for all to see? Unbelievable. Heart wrenching. Just plain wrong.

Teachers are going through this, also.  In DC, the lovely Michelle Rhee recently fired 241 teachers, most of whom received low ratings on their evaluations under her new evaluation system. Rhee publicised it (I think she rather enjoys her power trips) and the teachers were publicly humiliated.  Under her new evaluation system, teachers are judged on 22 different teaching elements in 9 categories and must demonstrate them in a typical 30 minute evaluation. With these ridiculous, illogical parameters, Rhee is opening her school district up to massive lawsuits. To Rhee, I say, “Do the right thing. Stop this stupidity.”

This insane 30 minute evaluation process brings to mind an experience I had back in college where I was learning to become a teacher. One of my professors gave me a critique of a science lesson plan I had presented to the whole college class. It was advice that I will never forget.  The lesson I had presented was similar to one I had seen taught in the elementary school where I was an intern at, so I thought I had hit on everything required of me.  He explained that I did everything I was supposed to do in my lesson, but that my anticipatory set was cut way too short.  He said that too many teachers are pressured by school districts to shorten the time needed to introduce a new concept to students. That time is important as it brings in students’ background knowledge about a topic and helps them connect it with new information being taught. It is also a crucial time to pique students’ interests in the topic and help them understand the lesson objective.

With today’s reform and need to achieve those beloved test scores, I think we will see more and more teachers teaching formulaically and cutting out important teaching techniques. In other words, what gets measured will get done. This is part of what has been contributing to our students’ difficulties in learning. American education has become formulaic and data driven, and it shows. Ask any college professor what type of students they are seeing come through their doors. Educators (especially those who are against formulaic teaching to the test) are losing their jobs over it and kids are struggling academically.

So back to my discussion on Bryan Bass.  He is an example of those who are fired over unfair evaluation systems and low test scores.  The criteria he was judged on had nothing to do with bringing down barriers to learning that many poor kids face. Taking the time to do what he did to help those kids was the right thing to do.  He took a risk.  He could have been a lot more formulaic and burned the hell out of his teachers and students to bring up those test scores, but he chose a more moral and ethical route that was long-term oriented to help kids, not short-term oriented to hit certain data points.  He brought in wrap-around services and addressed the children’s emotional and health needs in order to reach them academically.  I think he’s a hero.  I think he’s a bit of a rebel and I applaud him. 

I also applaud those millions of teachers out there who do the right thing (like, teaching a lesson with a proper anticipatory set) and not buy into formulaic teaching. It takes guts to be a true educator. I know from experience that the longer I have been a teacher, the clearer the picture has become of what is truly going on in education. I feel guilty for having taught the way my districts have forced me to teach. Maybe that’s why I see so many older, experienced teachers harassed at work and prodded to quit. Ha, I just realized that I am now one of “those teachers”.  To that, I say to ed reformers and their regime, “Bring it on!”  I hope to have half the courage Bryan Bass has. If I do, I might find myself out of a job, but I’m not afraid of that, anymore.

God Bless our kids

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